Over the past two decades, Californian punk-rockers Alien Ant Farm have had a career which parallels surprisingly closely with the trajectory of another band I like: Eastbourne alt-rock outfit Toploader. I realise that geographically and musically they are hard to compare, but hear me out: both formed in the mid-to-late 90s, both enjoyed their greatest commercial success early on. Their major label debuts are – to date – their biggest selling LPs and the singles they are renowned for are jaunty covers which have become instantly-recognisable party anthems.
In the intervening years both bands have written and recorded multiple albums on a variety of labels (the latest from each being crowdfunded), had founding members come and go and taken hiatuses (whether official or not). Yet still, both enduring, hardworking bands are best known for “Smooth Criminal” and “Dancing in the Moonlight” respectively. Fun, overnight successes which may (perhaps) have hindered people’s ability to take them seriously in the long-term. Fallaciously, I have heard both referred to as one hit wonders, which is simply outrageous.
A final commonality between AAF and Toploader is that, as of this weekend, I have now seen both bands live in concert – a statement, which, just a few short years ago would have been almost impossible to imagine. AAF are currently in the country on the UK leg of a European tour, which included a sell-out stop at Norwich club-and-gig venue The Waterfront this past Saturday evening.
Support was two-fold, opening with post-grunge hard-rockers Local H and followed by nu-metalers SOiL. Like the headliners, both bands have been long in the industry, yet this was far from a hangout for has-beens merely reliving glory days – all three acts were bursting with energy and enthusiasm and had the Waterfront rocking. In truth, the supports were out of my comfort zone. I bought the AAF album back in 2001 because of their excellent Michael Jackson cover; rock and metal are heavier genres than I gravitate toward. Fortunately, this did not hinder my enjoyment of the night and I could recognise how hyped the crowd were for each set. SOiL’s “The Hate Song” was a definite stand out, as was their final number, which saw frontman Ryan McCombs epitomize his impressive audience interaction by literally joining the moshers for the entire song.
Following 25 and 40min performances from the supports, the headliners took to the stage at 8:45pm for an hour-long set (curfew was 10pm). Now, I played ANT:hology a lot upon its release, but can’t have given it a full spin for near-on 15 years. I also did not keep up with the band’s material beyond second album lead single “These Days”, therefore I really did not expect to recognise many of the songs. To my extreme surprise, a host of the ANT:hology tracks came flooding back to me while they were played, including “Sticks and Stones”, “Attitude” and “Courage”. So sing along I did!
Frontman Dryden Mitchell was on good form, conversing with the audience in between numbers, supplying jokes, anecdotes (“Does anyone remember when MTV actually played music videos…?”) and dedications (both to his mum and the late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington) to assuage any lulls in the atmosphere – he even applauding the security mid-song when a trouble-maker at the front was kicked out. While they were the ‘softest’ of the three bands on the night, they mixed up rock, pop, metal and punk for a diverse set list.
Naturally, the high points were their best-known hits. Poppy top 5 choon “Movies” was played unexpectedly early on, while “Smooth Criminal” was – as I anticipated – saved for the encore. Both got the audience pumped up, singing, dancing and grabbing for their mobiles. Friends of mine might be shocked to hear I attended this gig, but it was a fun and eye-opening experience, even if I had no prior knowledge of two of the three performers. While Alien Ant Farm may have the highest recognition with a UK gig-going audience in 2018, I could easily see both Local H and SOiL headlining shows of their own to great acclaim.